Wednesday 10 October 2012

Legends of Brocklehurst

Legends of Brocklehurst - Chapter 1

When I was younger, London was like a magnet to me. Those days youngsters never looked for employment abroad, however London was one of the few places we would travel to. The world seemed so much bigger, and Spain was about as far as any of us went for holidays. I had visited the capital previously for a couple of “extended” stays, but in late 1970, a friend of mine called Robin Coulthard, and I decided to see if the streets were really paved with gold. Robin was a guitarist, and singer who had played with local Carlisle bands. He was also a very good goalkeeper, and we had been in the same football team for a couple of seasons. Robin quickly found work in Carnaby Street working in a souvenir shop. While Robin worked in this vibrant atmosphere, I found mundane work selling, and servicing water softeners. However I would travel into Carnaby Street to see Robin at work, or to have a drink in a nearby pub when ever I could.
Any time day or night famous people could be seen walking about the Street. Many pop stars came there to buy the latest clothes, and I once got locked in Take Six, a fashion shop, because the singer from Sweet, Brian Connolly, wanted to purchase some clothes in peace. I also once saw Bob Dylan strolling about, and being virtually ignored by the passing crowds.
After a few months, one night Robin came home to our flat in Hampstead, only a few minutes walk from both the Tube, and the Heath extremely excited. He had been asked to join a group. There were only two problems: they had no drummer, and no transport. However, Robin knew a drummer called Ellway who he had met at work, and I said I could solve the van problem. The company I worked for had just purchased a brand new Ford Transit van. The Transit was the favoured mode of travelling for most bands in those days, and this one was almost new, only 800 miles on the clock, and had double back wheels as well. In those days all vehicles had one key, which opened, and started them, with a number on each key. To get a new one all you had to do was tell the garage the key number, and you could open, start, and drive away almost any vehicle. No proof of ownership was required. It cost me 12 pence to get a copy for the Transit. That night I calmly went to where the van was parked in Lyttleton Road, Hampstead Garden Suburb, opened the driver’s door, started it up, and drove off. Through the night I drove the 300 miles home to Carlisle where I had the original colour of pale blue sprayed dark blue, and the back windows blacked out, so no one with my criminal tendencies could see what was inside. I changed the number plates to match a stolen tax disc from a scrapped Ford Escort the number was JHV 151K. The next day I insured it, and returned to London in “my” new van. Robin had persuaded the drummer to join the band, so the van, and I had part time work driving the group.
Apart from Robin and Ellway, there was the singer Jimmy, bass guitarist Paul, and a keyboard player called Lynton Guest, whose claim to fame was that he had played with a pop group called Love Affair. They had a number one hit in 1968 called “Everlasting Love,” as well as a couple of other smaller ones. I am not sure of the first time I met the guys, probably in Carnaby Street, or in one of the pubs near there. Like me, I think, that Ellway was a little overwhelmed by some of the other band members's outsize personalities. Whatever the reason, we spent quite a lot of time together, and got on really well from day one. Whenever we travelled, he would ride “shotgun,” as he called it, sitting up front while the others were in the back with the equipment, getting stoned and drinking. Then as now, if I like a person, their colour, creed, or country of origin doesn’t matter to me. The person is the important thing. Ellway was a cool guy. The band wasn’t to be successful, and didn’t last very long. However we played quite a few gigs. The most memorable was a trip to my native Cumbria, where through an old employer of mine, a local booking agency, Cumberland Entertainment Services, we got some bookings. I remember on our way back to London from the north of England  Ellway telling me the reasons he came to London, and his hopes for recognition as a musician. I told him that it might make a good story for a music paper in the future. The other abiding memory I have of this group was making a demo record. It was the first time I had been in a recording studio, and it was very small, and cramped. I sat beside the drums believing I was witnessing a hit record being produced. Once it was completed, though, no one seemed to have much idea what to do next.
In one of the music magazines, I read that the manager of the Moody Blues lived in a village a few miles from Doncaster. It was decided I would deliver the demo in person. Having borrowed the train fare from Robin’s girlfriend, Kaye, one freezing winter’s day I travelled to Doncaster, then, hitchhiked through snow, fifteen miles to the village. Luckily the guy was in, and agreed to see me. After telling him a potted history of the band, and giving him the demo tape, I left to return to London convinced the big time beckoned. We did receive a reply, but not what we hoped for. A couple of weeks later a letter arrived along with the demo. Basically, it said the guy was sorry but couldn’t help us. He did go on to say he wished the band all the best for the future, and that the band reminded him of a young Moody Blues. 
Not long after this, disappointed and disillusioned the group split up. Apart from Robin, Ellway was the only one I kept in touch with, mainly because I would see him at work, or in pubs round Carnaby Street when I used to meet Robin.
At that time I used to supplement my income with the water softening company by stealing from petrol stations when they were closed, during the night. There would always be £30 or so float left in the cash box, so it was easy pickings with minimal risk. There would normally be a floor safe, and the money in the till was left allow any burglars to get some reward, and not smash the place up trying to get the floor safe open. Ellway was now unemployed, and running out of cash so he once asked if he could come with me on one of my night-time jaunts, but I said it was a bad idea. I argued if he ever wanted to come back to England with a band in the future having a criminal record would prevent that. In those days group members  from over seas needed a visa to enter the UK. However, on a few, occasions I did give him the odd fiver. Being the guy he is Ellway never forgot those friendly gestures. A short time later he left London to return home believing he wouldn’t succeed in his chosen profession. We had exchanged addresses, but the likelihood of us ever meeting again was very remote. For some reason, each time I bought a new address book I continued to write Ellway’s name and details in it. After a few years and several books, his name was at the top of the page for his initials. I am not sure why I continued to keep this out-of-date information, it was almost like I knew our paths would cross again in the future. But how could that happen, having lost contact as we had ?
I guess that should have been the end of the story………

The band in London back in 1971 was called English Rose. Also due to my criminal activities I have since spent a few “holidays“, care of Her Majesty!
I am now going to fast forward many years.
It was Tuesday 7th September 2004 around 8-00 pm, and I was sitting in the foyer of the Savoy Hotel in London. I was very excited as I was there to meet an old friend I hadn’t seen for over twelve years. As usual I was on time but my mate, untypical of him, was running late. I had received a call on my mobile from Ellway telling me he was held up, so I bought myself 20 ciggies and a vodka and tonic. I nearly collapsed when I heard the price, £17-67. I handed the waiter a £20 note, and mumbled “keep the change”. Thank goodness I wasn’t paying for tonight’s meal, and drinks! I had sat in the foyer so I would be able to see Ellway coming in, and I was just wondering if we would recognize each other after such a long time, especially as I was dressed in a smart suit, and tie, the least I could do being in such salubrious surroundings, and my old friend had never seen me attired in my “court clothes “, when a familiar tall figure walked through the entrance to the hotel. We saw each other simultaneously and I heard the words “that bonce looks familiar”. I stood up and gave my old buddy, Neil Peart, a big hug.
Ellway is a joke adaptation of his middle name “Ellwood” that we have used for some time. I, in, turn get many variations of “Brocklehurst” from Brockbank, my surname that goes back to those good old days in London, hence Neil’s decision to entitle my roadie dairies and this tale, “Legend’s of Brocklehurst”.

There will be a weekly addition to this story, usually completed for the weekend.

                                                     Chapter 2

 The last time I had seen Neil was at the end of Roll the Bones tour in 1992. I had dropped Neil, Jackie and Selena, outside a hotel near Southampton as they were sailing back to New York on the QE2. My final memory of that day was watching the three of them waving goodbye as I drove off.
I could never have envisaged the tragedy that would over take them in such a short time.
In the intervening years both the ladies in Neil’s life had died. Selena in a car crash and Jackie died only ten months later from cancer. Neil says it was really a broken heart as Jackie never got over their daughter’s tragic accident.
After hugging we fell silent. To say those first moments were emotional is an understatement, we just looked at each other, neither really knowing what to say. Then Neil, being the first to pull himself together, suggested we go up to his room, and have a drink while he got changed. Rush had just finished their rehearsal at Wembley Arena, and Neil had come straight from the stage to the hotel. The next night, Wednesday 8th September, was the first date of the R30 European tour. This was their celebration for having been together for thirty years with no personnel changes, some achievement. Though I have never been the biggest of Rush fans, I was really looking forward to seeing them play, and in particular Neil drumming, again.
After our initial hesitancy, and awkwardness we were soon into the old routine, laughing, joking, asking each other questions, and getting up to date with each others lives. Even though we hadn’t seen each other for a long, long time, it seemed like days rather than years since we last met. As usual the conversation revolved around our personal lives rather than how Rush were doing, and stories about the current tour. Neil is an excellent host, and the drink flowed. We ate and drank but I can’t tell you the cost as there were no prices on the menus, I will only repeat thank goodness I wasn’t paying ! Neil’s room had one wall that was almost completely made up of glass. We were on the fifth floor over looking the Thames, and had a wonderful panoramic view from the House of Parliament on the right, across to the London Eye, the Festival Hall, all the way down the river. A marvelous sight with so many different coloured lights. Perhaps this view looked even better after the extras !
Those few hours flew by, and early in the morning Neil, who seemed to be slightly less intoxicated than me, said it was time to ring Carrie, his wife. Knowing Ellway the way I do, I understood he was politely telling me the party was over. We said our goodbyes, hugged at the door, and I said I would see him before the sound check at Wembley the next day.
Somehow I found my way to the lift, and managed to hit the right button, so arrived on the ground floor. It was around 2-00 am. I decided to see if anyone was in the American Bar. I was really looking for Pegi Cecconi, one of the Anthem hierarchy who I really like, and get on well with. I stumbled along the narrow room that is the bar, looked around but couldn’t see Peg. Mind you I was under considerable pressure just to keep walking straight, so maybe that is why I had passed, without noticing, the four people sitting near the entrance to the bar. As I exited I saw the back of a familiar head, but there seemed to be less hair than last time, so I wasn’t sure. I altered my angle so I would pass close, but not too near to be intrusive. Then I saw that easily identifiable long dark hair of the guy facing me, and a voice said “I recognize that face”. The blonde guy sat with his back to me, turned round, said “Peter”, and got up and gave me a big hug. Geddy had seen me but it was Alex who gave me the warm welcome. They were sat with Ray Daniels, and a girl from the production team, Shelley, who I didn’t know. Luckily they had all been drinking too, so my alcoholic, stoned state wasn’t so obvious. Some how I managed to sit down, and join in the conversation. As usual they were very friendly, and Alex outrageously funny. When ever I have met Alex he has always been very warm, and with out fail, hilarious. Geddy usually was more restrained, and had taken a while to accept me. Ray, as is normal for him, had a host of rock stories to tell. He is well connected in the music business, as not only does he manage Rush, John Bon Jovi is his brother-in-law. I stayed for a couple of drinks, then bade my farewells, and left. Somehow I found a taxi and managed to give the driver the address of my hotel. I can’t remember arriving there or going to bed!
I think this is a good time to qualify exactly what my friendship with Neil is. I would never claim to be to be his best friend, or indeed, he mine. This is simply the story of two guys who liked each other from day one, and who having lost touch for many years were reunited by a stroke of fate. We have spent many years of not meeting by keeping in touch using various forms of mail, both the basic postal service, and more recently via email, and somehow our friendship has lasted. We are totally different people and of course we have had our minor fall outs. Exclusively down to me, may I add ? It is very hard sometimes to understand exactly what being a rock super star is, and all it entails. There have been occasions when I hoped to spend more time with Neil, but because he was working, that wasn’t possible, and I have felt let down. But letting his friends down is something NEP never does. Each time I have been incarcerated, Neil has found time to write those wonderful letters, and each time was enclosed a few pounds to make life in a small cell more comfortable.
He has always been there to support me, to read my darkest thoughts, and always replied in a manner that gave me hope. Never slow to chide or criticize when deserved, but always with his irrepressible humour. Some times I wonder how Neil has put up with me. That being said there have been times when I could have taken exception at what I felt was over criticism. He has a habit of only answering questions in emails that are of interest to Mr. P. That meant I would often be a couple of comments light in his replies. When I pointed that it out that evening in The Savoy, he apologised, and said it wouldn't occur again. A few emails after the tour Neil was back to his old bad habits. I never mentioned it again. Pointless.
A lot has been said about Neil’s attitude to fans and his unwillingness to meet them. Basically he is a very, very shy guy who feels uncomfortable with adulation. If anyone reading this was to meet him socially, you would be most pleasantly surprised. He is warm, funny and very genuine. He can be amazingly silly, in a lovely humane way. He just doesn’t understand why people would want to meet him. He doesn’t seem to comprehend that concept, any more than we can, of being in the falsely elevated world of rock star royalty that he has to live in. But believe me, this is a wonderful human being, and I am very lucky to have him as a friend. He has never judged me, and always accepted my criminal activities. I think the main reason we have remained mates for so long is that to me he is still that slightly na├»ve Canadian I met in London all those years ago, and not a super star rock drummer. Perhaps the fact that I am not a big fan of Rush also has helped. We both know that isn’t the reason I keep in touch, plus my slightly unusual life style has kept NEP often amazed, and frequently amused.
The fact that I had come to London, and stayed, at my own cost, for five days, explains just how much I value our friendship.  I was also going to both the Wembley shows which in all honesty is far too much Rush for me. Remember Neil always leaves immediately after the last song, so I would only see him before. My son, Mark, and a friend Chris Lee, were also going to the gigs, so returning to The Savoy after the first one was not an option. After the second one Neil would be getting straight into his " camper van, " heading off.

Legends of Brocklehurst - Chapter 3

I would now like to return to the story of how Neil and I were reunited after he returned to Canada in 1972.

Many years later, in early December 1983 in Manchester where I was living, someone asked me if I knew a guy called Neil Peart from Canada. I told him I had done so years ago but hadn’t seen or heard from Neil since 1972. I was told he had been touring England with a Canadian group called Rush. Neil had asked this guy if he knew Peter Brockbank, and when he said he did, Neil asked him to inform me that he was trying to trace me. The strange thing is neither of us have a clue who this guy could have been. I wasn’t in touch with anyone we both knew from the old days apart from Robin, and it definitely wasn’t him.
I guess fate just lent a hand.

Not surprisingly I had never heard of Rush, but remembering my colonial friend with a great deal of affection, and always loving a challenge, I decided to try, and track him down. First thing next day at work, a company fraud we were running, I rang a local record shop to see if Rush had released any records. I was fairly surprised to hear they had, and was told their record label over here was Polydor. I then phoned Polydor in London to see how I could get to speak to my old mate. A very snooty lady told me they were from Canada, and she couldn’t possibly give any information out. Of course I had no idea I trying to contact a rock star. I pleaded with her to help me in my quest, and eventually I must have worn her down as she gave me a name, and phone number in Canada. I think she was just pleased to get rid of me. The name of the Canadian company was Anthem. Impatiently waiting for the moments to pass so the five hour time difference would mean business in Canada had started, I reflected excitedly that I would soon be able to speak to Neil. Shortly after two in the afternoon I dialled the number. I spoke to a girl called Linda but to my bitter disappointment I was informed Neil wasn’t there. I left my details and asked Linda to pass them on to Neil. Impatiently for the next few days I awaited in vain for a trans-Atlantic phone call. I repeated my call to Linda a few more times, all with no joy. What was wrong with my old friend ? He was the one supposedly asking about me but when I contact his agency he can’t be bothered to return my calls. I know he is in a band that has made a couple of records but I couldn’t believe this had gone to his head, and he didn’t want to speak to me. This all seemed very strange. I was used to bands that popped into their agent’s offices almost daily, either to collect money, to check what gigs were coming up, or just to chat to other groups. Surely he would have seen Linda, and received my messages ? I was to find out years later Neil has never been to Anthem’s office. Eventually after hearing nothing from Neil, a few days before Christmas, I sent him a greetings card care of Anthem. I must admit I was a bit childish, and chose one of the smallest cards I could find. It only had room for a scribbled note. I think I wrote something like “You are the one trying to find me, don’t you check your messages, or has recording made you too big headed to contact your old friends ? “ Plus I added my address.

Early 1984 saw me on a short holiday care of Her Majesty. One lunchtime when I checked my mail, in an envelope, along with a letter from my girlfriend Jackie, I saw a postcard, which had been sent to my home address. Glancing at it briefly I saw a picture of three guy’s heads. Turning it over I read a few words that made no sense. And as I couldn’t make out who it was from, I quickly put it down. Well I did have an important letter from my lady to read !
A few moments later a prisoner knocked on my cell door, came in, and asked if I had received a post card. I asked him what concern of his it was. and told him to piss off. In prison you have to act a little tough or people will try to take advantage. He explained he worked in the office where the prisoner’s mail was sorted, and had seen the post card. Intrigued by his interest I showed it to him. Excitedly he asked me if I knew any of the three silhouetted faces on the card. I looked more carefully, and realized that the one on the left, could, just might be, an old friend. When I informed him I thought it may be a guy I used to know in London called Neil Peart, he almost had a heart attack. “ He is the drummer for Rush ” he gasped, “ the best rock band in the world. This is a promotional post card for their Signals album ”, Fecking idiot, I thought. This lunatic was such a Rush fanatic he had changed his name to Alex, Geddy, Neil, Rush and named his three sons after his heroes.
I was now nearly excited as this new phenomenon in front of me, a Rush fan. I tried to act casual, and hastily got rid of the guy so I could read over, and over again the words. My old friend not only was well, and playing in a band, it would seem he was doing alright for himself.
I wrote a letter that night. and posted it the next day. I explained where I was and why. A small fraud that had gone wrong. The fact I knew the drummer from Rush had spread like wild fire round a certain section of the prison population, and I was getting treated like royalty by some rather peculiar long hired types. I mentioned this to Neil in a second letter, and asked for a few signed post cards knowing I could trade them for weed, and other contraband. I also mentioned the guy who had changed his name. Below is a copy of that post card.

( Sorry about the quality of this picture. It is a very old post card. )

Neil wrote : Peter. Can it be I am not sure that you are the person I am thinking of and have been asking mutual friends about for five years now. Please understand that a lot of strange calls come to our office. They don't know that I remember.

Added was an address to contact him.

A few weeks later I received a reply from Neil.
( I have tried to post a picture of that letter but it is totally unreadable, if I can get it cleaned up I will add it later. )